Stillness, Quietness, and Listening
For millions of lifetimes, we have given free rein to our mind. In all this time it has been leading us away from the eye centre with the distractions and pleasures of the world. When we come onto the spiritual path of meditation, we are leading this untamed, pleasure-seeking mind in a new direction, not of its choosing, and it puts up a fight. When we close our eyes and focus on simran at the eye centre, mind does everything in its power to distract and entice us. We have taken on a powerful adversary. Without the Master’s constant watch over us, we could not hope to win the fight with the mind.
So, how can we pull the tyrannical mind into this new direction?
In the Bible it is written: “Be still and know that I am God.”
The mystics explain that there is no ‘I’ separate from God. There is no distance between who we truly are and God. There is nothing to achieve in terms of a goal. When we become perfectly still, we will know; we will realize that we are God. When the mind is still, our soul will slip through the eye of the needle – the eye centre, and we will realize that we are God already.
Maharaj Sawan Singh describes this process of bringing our attention inside during meditation.
Just as a man, weary with the day’s work, resorts to his home to take rest, so we habituate our soul, on being tired with worldly work, to take rest in the holy sound. The attention has to be brought inside, and when it likes to rest there, like the wanderer coming home, it will find peace within.
When the mind rebels, as it will, we keep returning it to simran. This is the start of our spiritual journey, and this stage requires the vigilance and courage of a warrior. But the Master assures us he is always with us. He is there, even when we don’t yet have the inner focus to see him.
Spiritual Masters make us aware that we are spiritual beings tied to a mind and body. That mind is knotted together with our soul at our spiritual eye centre, located in the forehead. From the eye centre our attention continuously spreads downwards and outwards into the material creation; and it is this mind – dragging our hostage soul along with it – that is attracted by the five senses, absorbing a never-ending stream of impressions from them. These sense impressions, the Masters explain to us, form a thick covering or layer of spiritual darkness over the brilliant light of our soul.
The saints don’t simply point out our soul’s predicament, they show us an actual way to escape our imprisonment. If the senses control the mind and the mind in turn controls the soul then, the saints explain, we must reverse this situation for the soul to regain its freedom.
Once we recognize the need to regain control of our mind, the first step is to take responsibility for every one of our thoughts and actions. Kal, the universal mind, is committed to keeping the soul distracted, so we do not even realize we are imprisoned within his realm of the physical and mental regions. Once we do become aware of this, we must be equally committed to breaking free from this prison of distractions.
Innumerable are the ways we allow ourselves to remain enslaved and distracted. We are conditioned into well-worn pathways of excessive consumption, hobbies, attachments, relationships, name and fame… the list goes on. Whether our metaphorical chains are forged of iron or the finest gold, they serve equally well to keep us imprisoned.
The mind is a tool given to the soul to enable it to function on the physical and mental planes. When controlled by the soul and used as a tool, it’s an excellent and helpful servant. When the mind usurps power and controls the soul, it becomes a ruthless master. We become addicted and enslaved by the distractions.
A Canadian physician who works with addiction, Gabor Maté, defines addiction as any repeated activity engaged in despite the certainty that it harms oneself or others. In his book Scattered Minds he says:
All addictions are anaesthetics. They separate us from the distress in our consciousness. We throw off our familiar and tired consciousness to assume another mind state we find more comfortable, at least temporarily. Desperate to be out of our mind and unaware, we surrender to the addiction, to be lulled into a waking sleep.
So, whether it’s shopping, television, relationships, mobile phones or cocaine, we need to be aware of the mind’s need to engage in self-soothing activities. Otherwise, as Maté says, we can be lulled into a waking sleep.
Mystics come to awaken us from this sleep, to remind us that we are spiritual beings lost in the downward and outward pull of the mind, driven by desires and conditioning. They come to show us a path, a method to regain mastery of our mind and senses, to regain our long-lost access to our third eye – the centre referred to in the Bible where it says: “If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.”
Explaining the profound significance of the third eye, Maharaj Charan Singh says:
The third eye is the seat of the mind and soul. This is the pivotal point that holds the mystery of life. … From here every minute the mind wanders out. It does not sit still at this spot even for a moment. Its activities are legion. The ageless secret, the ancient wisdom, the path of the saints lies in withdrawing the attention back to this point.
As quoted in Living Meditation
Meditation creates a point of balance in our life. It prevents us from swinging wildly between our worldly lives and our spiritual aspirations. This, then, becomes our choice: do we prioritize regular meditation or the thousand and one addictions of daily life? Do we choose the stillness of simran or the noise of the mind? In our lives, our actions reflect our choices.
At each step on this path of merging the soul back with the Shabd, the disciple requires the help and inspiration of a living spiritual Master who is the conscious embodiment of these age-old teachings. He teaches by the example of his own life.
Because we have been entrapped by the illusions of the mind for lifetimes, we cannot depend on this limited tool to recognize a true Master.
The Masters tell us that, in reality, we don’t find him, he finds us. Hazur likened our situation to that of a small child who has let go of her father’s hand in a bazaar. Being so young, she doesn’t know her father’s full name or his address. Her cries, however, bring the right person, someone who can find her parents and bring her back to them. He says:
What else can the child do who is lost in this creation, who has lost his Father, except cry? … If this creation doesn’t entertain us and only the cries for the Father are heard, then he pulls us to his level.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. I
The real miracle the Masters perform for us is to turn our whole mindset and conditioning upside down, so that we are able to absorb the teachings. It is all pure love and grace. We have no choice. We are going home with our Master.
The Masters tell us that when we do simran, our soul naturally starts to go up towards the eye centre. Just like a balloon, untied from the string holding it down, it naturally starts to rise upwards. No force is needed for our consciousness to rise up. It will naturally go up on its own when simran frees us from our attachment to the world.
Finding stillness of body and quietness of mind will allow us to practise simran with attention and love. Hazur explains that, ultimately, it is the sound, the Shabd, that creates complete stillness in the mind.
The mind is like a monkey and does not wish to be confined and be still. It is its nature to be flitting from place to place and thought to thought, seeking …the bliss which it once enjoyed in the region of Trikuti. When it is able to catch the Shabd, the divine Word, it will be still. … Simran is an invocation, an appeal and a gradual turning inside. Persevere on, then the periods when you, the real you, are in control will increase.
Light on Sant Mat
In the book Seva, stillness is intricately linked to quietness, silence, and listening. The author makes the point that Sant Mat is a path of listening. Through our meditation practice we develop our inner faculty of listening to the Shabd. Listening with our full attention develops a skill which truly has no bounds.
Guru Nanak assures us that
Listening – even the blind find the path.
Listening – the unreachable comes within your grasp.
As quoted in Seva
Stillness and quietness; listening with devotion. The Master teaches us these skills as we walk this path in his company.